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My Tenant Lost Their Job – Now What?

by Kevin Perk on January 20, 2014 · 16 comments

  
My Tenant Lost Their Job

People lose their jobs.  They can get laid off or fired.  Companies can go bankrupt.  There are a host of other reasons why someone might loose their job but a sudden job loss obviously means a loss of income.  If the person has no or very few cash reserves things can get dicey for them pretty quick.  They may be making decisions between food, utilities, gas and rent.

If you are a landlord for any length of time, eventually one of your tenants will loose their job.  What happens then?  Some tenants will be up front with you and tell you early on and work with you.  Others will put their heads in the sand and hope things quietly blow over.

So what should you as a landlord do then you get the call saying “I’ve lost my job and can’t pay my rent.” from one of your tenants?  Should you move to evict right away?

Perhaps there is a better way

  1. Be kind and understanding – This is especially true if they have been a good paying tenant.  They are probably embarrassed about being in this situation.  Don’t pile more on top of them.  However….
  2. Counsel Them – Ask if they think they will be getting a new job soon.  Ask if they can get help from family and friends.  Be gentle but direct.  Ask them how they think they will be able to pay the rent.
  3. Be Firm But Fair – Help them understand that you have bills to pay as well and that they cannot stay if the cannot pay.  You can certainly work with them by giving them some time or perhaps a discount.  How much and how long is up to you and your tenant/landlord relationship.  But you also should…..
  4. Encourage Definitive Action – Ask them to set a specific date for getting a new job or acquiring the money to pay you.  How far out this date should be or how much time you want to allow is again up to you.  If that date comes with out any payment, then…..
  5. Encourage Them To Move – Do this as quickly as possible.  Your goal now is to get possession of your rental unit back asap so you can get income flowing again.  Encourage your tenant to move in with parents, friends, whatever.  Again be firm.  Make the point again that they cannot stay.
  6. Set A Date For Them To Move Out – If after a reasonable amount of time (that you have decided upon) there does not appear to be any prospect of getting paid set a firm date with your tenant for them to be out of the premises without any legal action. Yes, you might have to use the stick of legal action to get someone motivated.  Explain that you do not want to pile an eviction on top of their already large load of problems.  But you will.   You can also use a carrot.  Tell them they can get their security deposit back if the unit is clean and undamaged and that you will let them out of their lease.
  1. If All Else Fails, Evict Rarely have we had to go this far, but we have had to use the threat.  Most people realize that they can’t stay and will move on.

Losing a job sucks.  While we landlords can and perhaps should be understanding and even sympathetic, we are also running a business.  That however does not mean that we cannot work with our tenants to find the best possible solution for everyone.
Photo Credit: philcampbell

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcus January 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Great solutions; all landlords should apply the approach of being direct but show compassion. Great post

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Kevin Perk January 20, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Marcus,

I appreciate the kind words and thanks for reading,

Kevin

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Ryan Ebanks January 20, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Kevin, good points. This is a situation that some landlords are not emotionally equipped to handle and may be better served by delegating, if possible. The picture can often be heartbreaking: A family with 2 kids that has a perfect 3 year track record of payment and in the middle of overcoming a family crisis- then, out of the blue the husband loses his job and the wife’s hrs are cut back… The challenge becomes how much do you accommodate as a landlord…

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Kevin Perk January 20, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Ryan,

It is a challenge. And the challenge is different with every situation. There is no easy answer but a little tact and diplomacy can really go a long way.

Thanks for reading and commenting,

Kevin

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Jason Merchey January 21, 2014 at 6:35 am

Yah you have to have some pretty compelling commitments of your own, or be a hard-a$s to make them leave. I get that we have an asset we need to see perform. But I am also drawn to thinking of the altruistic behavior that certain people famously exhibited to persecuted people in nazi-era Germany. Pretending that you’re not allowing folks to stay in your basement to your neighbors and even to the authorities takes real moxie; whereas requiring that a modern-day enemployed family vacate so that you can get a paying tenant in calls for much less heroism. However, there still may be a time when compassion and charity is the choice we make. As I said, it does depend a lot on your own finances. That is similar to the fact that some people were against the persecution of minority groups in nazi Germany but *housing* them secretly was a far cry from caring about their plight. After all, one could meet with a summary execution for harboring enemies of the state. So yah if you are going to lose your house by not evicting them, then that is a non-starter. But if it’s just an unimpressive year-end financial statement for a financial year we’re talking about here, well, let me just say that any good person would have a very difficult time with this dilemma. Morality can sometimes be a grueling decision.

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Kevin Perk January 21, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Jason,

“Morality can sometimes be a grueling decision.”

Yes, yes it can.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

Kevin

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Lisa Phillips January 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I think offering to let them out of the contract without eviction, signed and in writing, is an excellent alternative and gives them some wiggle room.

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Kevin Perk January 20, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Lisa,

It does offer them some wiggle room, which I think is best. They have after all been hit with a job loss. Maybe they deserved it, I don’t know but they live in my property and I need it to cashflow so I can live. The best way to get that cashflow going again in my experience is to be upfront and direct, but kind. They know what they have to do. It just may take a bit of pushing so to speak. Sometime you have to give a little to get I think.

Thanks for reading and commenting,

Kevin

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Sara Cunningham January 22, 2014 at 1:58 am

Good advice. We have experienced a couple of situations recently with tenants not paying for a couple of months. We follow your advice to a tee. Both times we got positive results. The tenants in question did pay up eventually. In our case they hadn’t lost their jobs, one was sick and is self employed, the other had their hours at work cut dramatically. I have found that showing empathy and understanding goes a long way. The last thing you want to do is to alienate the tenant because then they are likely to start ignoring you, not return phone calls emails etc. In the case of the tenant on the short work week we ended up taking them to court to evict, but they showed up in court with the money that they had managed to borrow from a relative. We sent a written warning to the other tenant and they too managed to get caught up. You need to protect your investments for sure but you also need to remember that eviction, preparing the unit for new tenants, waiting to find the right tenant etc. also has a negative cash flow.

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Kevin Perk January 23, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Sara,

Good advice.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Kevin

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Cindi January 23, 2014 at 11:21 am

Just wanted to add that I have been down this road a few times. At first they pay, albeit late, by depleting savings and hitting up family and friends. But eventually the well goes dry. While I always believe in treating people kindly and with dignity, once someone has trouble paying their rent once, I have never seen them come back and be good tenants. Get them out as quickly as you can.

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Kevin Perk January 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Cindi,

I have to differ.

I have seen tenants get back up on their feet and get back in good standing. But I do understand where you are coming from when your speak of the “well running dry” as I have seen that side of it too.

If you can work with them and they are meeting you halfway than work with them. But eventually there comes a time where they have to go. Where is that point? I think it is different for every situation and only you as the landlord can decide.

Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences. I do appreciate it,

Kevin

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Neisha January 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

Well, I did not go into the rental business to support anybody else’s family. You can still listen and be compassionate while evicting a tenant. I’ve dealt with similar situations, lent a sympathetic ear, and my response goes something like this,

“I’m sorry to hear about your loss of a job (or whatever the tragedy is), while you are looking for a new one, I have no choice but to start the eviction process. You may want to start looking towards churches and government agencies for some assistance and if you can get caught up on rent and pay the court cost before the eviction date, I would be glad to cancel, otherwise we will have to go through the whole eviction process. Surely you understand how hard it is to support one family, please understand that I am not in a position to support yours!”

That usually goes over pretty well, most cases, the tenant understands. Sometimes they get caught up, sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, I’m proactive with the eviction and turning my property over quickly.

It’s the nature of the business!

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Jason January 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Wow that was nicely worded!
I would still end up trying to do some kind of a work out though. What happened to me in 2013 is illustrative of my point. My tenant is paying $1,000 a month, and after 15 months, had a spousal alimony hiccup and said that because of that big payment, he had to move. I asked him if he wanted to, or had to. He said had to. I asked how far behind he’d be, and he said $2000. So I offered to a) take his last month’s rent payment and apply it to the 1st late month, and then expecting a 2nd month of difficulty, I got him to sign a one year lease at $1,100. He agreed, and it’s been three months since and he has paid the $1,100 at least once and I expect he will continue to. It worked out for everyone involved – if he fulfills that lease. Then we might have to go back down to $1050, but still, crisis averted.

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Kevin Perk January 23, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Jason,

Nice!

We really need to be creative in this business sometimes, scratch that, all the time.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I appreciate it,

Kevin

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Kevin Perk January 23, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Neisha,

I completely hear what you are saying and trust me we have a frank talk with our tenants if they get in this situation. But I hate to start an eviction process on them at such an early date, especially if they have been a good tenant. If I do, anytime they go to rent again, there will be the eviction file next to their name (even if I do not go all the way through with it) that will dog them for years. I simply have not found it necessary most of the time to pile on to their troubles and have chosen not to do so. I find I get my properties back just as quickly. But every market and business is different and every business owner does what they feel they need to do. I understand and respect that.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and adding to the discussion. I appreciate it,

Kevin

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